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Cultivating a community of local innovation

In March 2020, Julia Jenjezwa, DIT Design Studio Coordinator, wrote about the DIT Design Studio: Innovation for COVID-19 Preparedness in Tanzania. Julia provided the following update on how things are going in the Design Studio a year later.

The Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) Design Studio is an advanced maker space at the university Dar es Salaam Institute for Technology in Tanzania. The Studio space includes equipment used by engineering students and faculties to design and build real-world solutions to local challenges.

Cultivating a community of local innovation

Written by: Julia Jenjezwa

Contributor: Carrie Noxon

At the beginning of the global pandemic, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was in short supply due to global shortages. Hospitals across Africa were being left without adequate PPE. At the DIT Design Studio, we knew we could help by figuring out how to design, locally manufacture, and produce the PPE that the hospitals desperately needed. However, designing the right products for the community required developing a relationship with hospitals during a time of chaos and uncertainty.

Our student teams from DIT met with hospital administrators and medical workers to understand their needs. Using that information, the teams rallied to develop local, low-cost solutions to the supply shortages. Over the last year, we were able to design, manufacture, and deliver over 2,000 3D printed face shields for doctors, nurses, and medical staff at hospitals. Together with other design studios across four countries, these efforts contributed to the 52,000 face shields that were locally manufactured and delivered across the continent. We also designed other necessary equipment, including intubation boxes, handwashing stations and ventilators.

The pandemic presented challenges that the DIT Design Studio could solve. As a result of our work, we strengthened our partnerships with the healthcare community, grew student interest in innovation, and expanded the potential for local innovation in Tanzania.

UVGI rooms use short-wavelength ultraviolet light (UVC) to kill viruses and sanitize masks for reuse. The room can sanitize masks within 15 minutes.

Student working in the design studio. Credit Julia Jenjezwa.

Students fitting together pieces of a design. Credit Julia Jenjezwa.

Establishing trust within the healthcare community

Before we could begin solving challenges for the healthcare community, we needed to build their trust in what the Design Studio could produce. During the drive to manufacture and deliver face shields, we were able to work directly with healthcare workers in refining designs based on their input. These collaborative efforts strengthened the Design Studio’s partnerships with local hospitals and established trust in the Studio within the healthcare community.

As a result of our interactions, the hospitals called on us to assist with other challenges, such as repairing life-saving equipment and sterilizing PPE to be reused. During our work responding to supply shortages, we supported CCBRT, a local organization, which was also engaged in 3D printing face shields, by repairing their 3D printers and enabling them to continue their work.

We responded by designing and installing room-sized mask disinfecting chambers. So far, we have installed one of these rooms at Muhimbili hospital and are planning a second room with future plans to build 10 more as needed. Each new project builds trust within our community and demonstrates that we are a dependable local resource.

To further the government’s trust in locally innovated devices, we are seeking verification of the UVC systems with the Tanzania Medicines and Medical Devices Authority (TMDA) (similar to seeking FDA verification in the United States). The verification of the UVC system marks a major milestone as it is one of the first times that the TMDA will use its process to verify a locally produced medical device. We are excited to work with them as they develop their protocol. Having a protocol for verifying locally designed technologies is essential for all of the future of innovation in Tanzania.

Growing Studio Participation

The impact of the design studios is beginning to change the local innovation landscape. The use of locally developed solutions from DIT has captured the attention of students, and the Design Studio itself is seeing growth.

The numbers of students and faculty interested in DIT Invention Education rose this year. Our studio’s membership numbers increased from 115 total in 2020 to over 300 people in the first quarter of 2021. Studio visits from the community for the first quarter of 2021 are already more than half of the total visits in 2020. Students have seen the value of the Studio and want to become a part of the teams building local solutions.

Expanding the potential for local innovation

With the excitement from students, faculty, and the local community for local innovation, DIT is growing its space to innovate. We are working on plans to expand the Studio space with more equipment and include separate classroom teaching space.

The developments and momentum this year at the Design Studio have been incredible. We are extremely grateful for the support from NEST360 funders* and the UNDP, and others that are driving our abilities to innovate and teach innovation. The challenges of COVID pushed our team at DIT and the surrounding community to start thinking about the advantages of local design.

The ability to respond to a global challenge with local solutions has enabled us to build trust and develop a growing partnership that has the potential to shift the future of local medical innovation in Tanzania.

*NEST360 is made possible by generous commitments from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The ELMA Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, The Lemelson Foundation, the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation, and individual donors to NEST360.